March 17, 2014

Fabric File Folder Holder Tutorial

So… this project has been done, hung, and put to work for at least a month. But I've been dragging my feet on writing this tutorial because I knew it would take some major effort. And then I realized I lost my notes with all my measurements on it. Not that I couldn't take out a tape measure and figure a few things out. Somehow that seemed too difficult! Combine that with lots of family illnesses (including my own) and this post just kept being left unwritten. No more! Here it is at long last.

Step one: Find your fabric and interfacing. Cut out the sizes you need.

I used fabric I already on hand so I wasn't thinking in terms of yards to purchase. So I am giving my measurements in inches.

Additionally, I should note that you could get crafty and customize this to be any length with any number of pockets you need. The width of mine (and of the original inspiration from Cottage 4C) is designed specifically to hold file folders.

Read on for the rest…

The base will be a 3-layer sandwich: front fabric, interfacing, back fabric

Fabric for the back of the base: 16 inches wide by 40 inches longNote: This won't be visible in the final piece.

Fabric for the front of the base: 16 inches wide by 40 inches long
Note: Only the very top above the pockets will be visible.

Interfacing for the base: 16 inches wide by 40 inches long

A rough layout of my pockets to determine how many I want

Fabric for file folder pocket fronts: 16 inches wide by 9 inches high
My file folder has 6 of these size pockets. Choose how many you need. I used a variety of fabric. You could also use all the same if you wish.

Fabric for file folder pocket backs (insides): 16 inches wide by 9 inches high
Note: These aren't visible unless you are pulling pocket open. I used plain white fabric.

Fabric for medium pocket front: 16 inches wide by 7 inches high
Fabric  for medium pocket back: 16 inches wide by 7 inches high

Fabric for small pocket front: 16 inches wide by 3.5 inches high
Fabric for small pocket back: 16 inches wide by 3.5 inches high

Note: The medium and small pockets are completely optional. Customize to suit your needs.

Step two: Create the base.

Iron the interfacing to the base back fabric. You will be ironing it onto the "wrong" side (not patterned). Lay the base front fabric on top of the interfacing and smooth it out. You will now have a three-layer "sandwich" consisting of base back fabric, interfacing (now ironed to the base back fabric), and base front fabric. At this point I pinned the base front fabric in place to the base back fabric/interfacing just to keep it from shifting. A few pins on the top and bottom and a few in the middle of the base should be enough.

Step three: Assemble individual pockets.

Pocket layers pinned and ready to sew

To create a pocket lay one piece of pocket front fabric face to face with one piece of pocket back fabric. So the two patterned sides are facing each other. Sew across the 16 inch width, backstiching at the the beginning and the end of your line.

Ironing the pocket seam flat – worth the effort!

Open up the seam and iron it open and flat. I tried to skip this step but it made a huge difference in how well the pocket would fold in half in the very next step.

Ironing the pocket flat
 Fold the pocket in half so that patterned sides of the fabric are out. The stitched together seam should be at the top. Iron it flat. Tah-dah! A pocket!

The side where the two layers are sewn together becomes the pocket top
Repeat for all the pockets.

Step four: Determine layout for pockets. Measure and pin in place.

Overlapping pockets pinned on the bottom where you will sew
I started my bottom pocket at the very bottom of the base and worked up. The next pocket's bottom will actually be underneath the top of the original pocket. So no pocket bottoms are visible in the end. In fact, most of the pocket is concealed by the pocket in front of it, with only the very top part of the pocket showing up.

I used a measurement of 4 inches. So 4 inches of the pocket top peeks out above the pocket below it. As soon as you have a pocket in the right spot, pin it in place along the bottom. This is the same place you will be sewing next. You will be spending a considerable amount of time on this step in order to get the pockets in evenly spaced positions.

Note: I do not have an overlap of 4 inches for the medium and small pockets. However, the bottom of the of the pockets is still concealed.

Step five: Sew the pockets to the base.

Fold already sewn pockets out of the way as you work through them
Now that you have the pockets positioned appropriately you will sew them in place. You will only sew across the bottom of the pocket for now. The top will be kept open so you can actually use the pocket. The sides will get sewn to the base all together.

Sew across the bottom pocket. Flip the freshly sewn pocket back out of the way and sew across the bottom of the next pocket. Continue until all pockets are attached to the base along their bottoms.

Step six: Sew around the perimeter of the entire folder holder. 

At this point I sewed all the way around the edge of the file folder holder. This serves two purposes: the pocket sides are attached to the base and the base layers themselves are sewn together. The file folder holder could technically be used at this point but of course we are going to finish it off with a nice binding to conceal the edge.

Step seven: Prepare your binding.

I decided to treat the file folder holder project like a quilt in that I made binding that goes all the way around the perimeter. I think it gives the project a nice finished look.

I decided to do double binding for extra strength. So the width of my binding was 4 inches. The length needs to be more than the total perimeter as there is some folding involved with the corners (more on this later) and you need to leave a little extra "tail" at both the beginning and end to work with. So, for my file folder holder the total perimeter is (16 + 40 + 16 + 40) 112 inches. So I would probably recommend preparing more like 130 inches of binding.

Cut strips of fabric, the longer the better, into 4 inch widths. I used scraps from making the pockets. I have to admit the binding would have gone better if I had longer pieces to work with. As it was, I ended up with quite a few seams to deal with.

To attach two strips to each other, first lay them perpendicular with their fronts (patterned sides) touching (see 1 in photo above). Iron back one layer of fabric to mark the diagonal (see 2 in photo above). Flip it back open and pin. Sew along this diagonal. Trim off the extra corner piece (see 3 in photo above). Open it up and iron the seam flat. You will end up with a nice diagonal seam (see 4 in photo above).

Repeat as needed until the full binding length is created. Then, to make double binding, fold the entire strip in half with your fingers bit by bit and iron into place. The "right side" or printed side of the fabric should be on the outside.

Step eight: Pin your binding in place but start on the back of the folder holder.

If you've ever made a quilt before you know that usually one attaches the binding to the front (first aligning the raw edges of the binding with the raw edges of the quilt), sews it in place, and then folds it along to the back. I always read about something called a "slip stitch" that experienced quilters then use to invisibly attach the binding to the back layer of the quilt. I am not that experienced and stick to machine binding so this is the step where I run the whole edge through the machine again, fully knowing the stitch will show on the front. For the one and only quilt I've made, I did borrow my mother-in-law's machine so I could use a fancy stitch on this step.

Anyway, I wanted the thickest part of the binding to show on the front of the finished folder holder, not the back, as is typical with a quilt project. You can see that the edge, the binding, looks pretty wide on my finished folder holder. I did this both because I liked how it looked and because it hides the stitch lines along the perimeter (both from step six and from the first step of attaching the binding which we are about to do).

So, flip your file folder holder to the back. You will align the raw edge of the binding (not the fold but the open part) with the raw edge of the folder holder. So the folded part of the binding is closer to the middle and the open part lines up with edge. Leave a 3 or 4 inch "tail" and start pinning the binding in the middle of one of the widths. Pin your way to the corner. Stop when you are about 1 inch from the corner.

Miter your corners.

Now we are going to miter the corners. I'll do my best to explain it myself and I think my photos will help but you might also want to reference these online instructions that I used. Basically, you are folding the fabric in a special way so (and later sewing it in a special way) so that when the binding is flipped over to the front side you have a fabulously tidy and flat corner. So it is worth your effort to learn this step.

First, fold the binding on top of itself, toward you, at a 45º angle (see 1 in above photo). You will notice that the raw edges of the binding are still aligned with the raw edges of the folder holder. This detail helps me keep straight what I am doing.

Next, hold that fold in place while you fold the binding back up, away from yourself (see 2 in photo above). Again we are keeping the raw edges aligned.

See the extra flap of fabric we have neatly tucked in the corner (3 in photo above shows it flat; 4 shows you the layers)?

Lay it flat and continue pinning.

A note about the corners: Since we've already got some extra folded fabric in place this is not a place where you want one of your binding strip seams to land. I unpinned and repinned my strip of binding 3 or 4 times before I managed to get all 4 corners to be "clean." It might be worth your effort to loosely pin it in place and work your way around to check where the seams land before carefully pinning it in place.

Step nine: Sew the binding to the back of the folder holder.

You will want to sew about a quarter inch in from the outside edge of the folder holder. Start where you first pinned, leaving 4 to 6 inches of extra "tail" hanging from the beginning.

When you are approaching one of your carefully folded over corners, sew up to about a quarter inch from the corner. Backstitch. Lift out the needle and start again on the other side of the folded over piece, again about a quarter inch from the actual corner (reference the illustrated stitch line in 5 above and the actual sewing in 6). You will not be stitching through all the layers of the folded corner. Go ahead and reference this diagram from my favorite online instructions. See where the stitch lines are?

End 4 to 6 inches before you get to the end. There should be a "tail" of extra binding left here just as there was in the beginning. Step ten will walk you through attaching the two ends together to finish your binding adventure.

Step ten: Attach your two binding ends to each other.

This might just be the trickiest part of the whole thing. The key is that in the end you've created a continuous piece of binding that fits the perimeter of the folder holder perfectly. Sew it too loose and you've got an extra chunk of fabric bunching up. Sew it too tight and it won't lay flat and attach easily.

The most difficult part of this is you are working with pieces of fabric that are attached to an entire folder holder. So it is a bit hard to maneuver! You will need to unfold the two "tails" (end pieces) and lay them as flat as possible. You will be sewing the two ends together and trimming off the extra fabric before folding it back in half and in place.

The easier method would be to pinch the two ends together, pin, and sew a straight line to attach them. Make sure the two "tails" are underneath and won't be hanging out in the front. Also make sure you are sewing from the back (unprinted) side. Trim off the excess fabric after sewing the ends together and iron the seam open. Pin this last piece of binding in place.

If you want to get a bit fancier – and I did – then you're going to aim for having an angled seam, just like we did in step seven when we were attaching pieces of fabric together to make our binding. You can't really fold and iron back the corner to make your line to sew on; I marked mine with a fabric pencil so I had something to follow (see 1 in photo above).  Pin in place, carefully arrange in your machine and sew (see 2 in photo above). Again, trim off the excess fabric after sewing the ends together and iron the seam open (see 3 and 4 in photo above to see what you'll end up with). Pin and sew this last piece of binding in place.

Step eleven: Fold binding over to the front of the folder holder and sew in place.

Flip the folder holder to the front side and pull binding from back (see 1 in above photo). Now that the binding is completely attached to the back, we have a nice smooth folded section to bring from behind to the front (see 2 in above photo). Snug it up and pin it in place. And, yep, we are going to sew around the perimeter once again. I put this final stitch line a quarter inch in from the middle of the folder holder. I didn't want my extra-wide binding strip flapping open and I wanted to seal away all my uneven edges and extra stitch lines.

You will also notice how easy it is to fold over nice corners thanks to our previous mitering efforts. Lovely. Once they are neatly folded and pinned (see 3 and 4) you are going to sew right over it in a continuous line, pivot, and continue onto the next side (see photo below).

A completed corner

Step twelve: Sew dividers into small pockets.

Sewing a dividing line down the middle of the top two pockets
I am betting this could be done earlier in the process. I tested out my smaller (and shallower) pockets and found they flopped open whenever I put anything in them. Knowing I wanted to store a packet of fine-tip markers and an address book in them, it made sense to just run a line right through the middle of the two top pockets.

Step thirteen: Add the hardware.

Half way through the grommet process
They sell grommet kits in the drapery aisle, near home decor fabric, that include the tools you need to put them in (with the exception of the hammer). Simply follow the instructions provided. I did three grommets across the top.

Step fourteen: Fill it up!

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